Manchester United’s start to life in the FA Cup resulted in a 2-0 win over Reading. The Old Trafford outing wasn’t a traditional Solskjaer game, with the club’s attacking prowess limited.
A VAR awarded penalty to Juan Mata and a late goal from Romelu Lukaku in the first-half secured the Red Devils with qualification to the next round. Reading, for their part, succeeded in almost everything apart from finishing, with their possession and shots on target indicating a different outcome from what was.
1. FA Cup Hurrah for Solskjaer
It is in no doubt that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wishes to carry on managing United and five consecutive wins is certainly one way to put a favorable look on his case.
However, what United must also do is gift their caretaker manager the FA Cup title. With the Premier League looking to be a two-way title race between Manchester City and Liverpool, and the Champions League potentially too much of a challenge, the FA Cup is the club’s sole hope of silverware this season.
However, if they are to do that, the performances need to be significantly better than what was on show on Saturday.
2. Hope for Reading
The Royals showed no indication that they were a Championship side fighting relegation and that they were without a victory under their new manager Jose Gomes. What they clearly need is a bout of confidence and some wins.
At Old Trafford, lack of conviction in their finishing is what ceased them from putting up a true challenge. Their possession game was impeccable, their passing half-decent and their attempts were quite hopeful. Now, they must seek to work on the positives from this FA Cup encounter and take it back to the Championship where they will be without distraction from now until the end of the season to work their way up the table.
3. VAR In Action
England got a taste of what the VAR is capable of, a feat that many fans have been begging for after the World Cup in the summer. Still in its infantile stages, the system was able to rightly identify a foul on Juan Mata in the box, which the Spaniard eventually buried into the back of the net.
One argument that many who do not advocate for the system continue to pose is that the virtual interference is too intrusive and wastes time. The five extra minutes added on to the first-half is clear proof of that, but the question of how much missed goals, offsides, penalty calls and cards matter when weighed against the wasted time is also intriguing.
4. Lukaku and Sanchez
The duo whose performance was in doubt under the caretaker reign of the Norwegian. As a unit, Sanchez’s pass to set-up Lukaku’s winner was arguably the only impact the Chilean had on the game. The injury he sustained in the second-half may put some doubt on his future hopes of landing a first-team spot.
It is clear that their pairing is strong, as shown in the Newcastle game as well, but work needs to be done still.
As for Lukaku, he’ll be immensely happy to have scored again and has been showing steady improvement. Selection dilemma incoming?
5. Not their Best Victory
The largely uninspiring performance could be attributed to the lack of Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford for the full ninety minutes. The Frenchman, in particular, is at the heart of Solskjaer’s style at the club and his absence was painfully obvious on Saturday.
Similarly, Rashford as a striker is most impactful when Pogba is behind him, feeding him with Scholes-esque passes. The Englishman himself stretches the opposition quite well, a feat that Lukaku isn’t too good at.
Without the duo or the pace of Martial and Lingard, the side played more as individuals rather than as a team. This is something that Solskjaer will be challenged with amending as an injury to any of these two or three crucial talents could spell trouble to his attacking ethos. The United teams of the past that thrived were often a single lethal unit and could work even when their top stars didn’t always put in their best game.
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